FCE LTER Journal Articles


Decades of voluntary efforts to reduce agricultural nonpoint source pollution have been ineffective at protecting water quality worldwide. While farmer collective action is needed to deal with the geographical extent of diffuse pollution from nutrient runoff, theoretical expectations from commons governance research predicts that farmers will not protect water quality since they have few incentives to do so. These different factors indicate that compulsory approaches are needed. However, the commons literature has tended to overlook the constructive roles that government regulation can play. Research on why farmers adopt on-farm conservation measures similarly has failed to explore farmer cooperation, instead focusing mainly on financial motivations of farmers. Yet, some adoption research indicates that social norms are essential factors shaping (non)adoption, but which are largely overlooked by existing agri-environmental policies. This study examines the important gap of how government regulations can incentive farmer cooperation to improve water quality. I focus on case study of the Florida Everglades, where farmers face joint liability under a phosphorus pollution cap and which has resulted in improvements in water quality over the past 20 years. Farms’ drainage disrupts the oligotrophic conditions of the Florida Everglades, but water quality has steadily improved since regulations began in 1994. However, the regulations set compliance jointly for farmers, devolving responsibility to ensure sufficient adoption of conservation practices and deal with free riding. While state monitoring shows that collectively farms have improved water quality, we do not know whether participation is widespread or concentrated among a few large farms. This study provides the first analysis of farm-level water quality outcomes for this area and how judicial, legislative, and local institutions interact to encourage farmer cooperation. Results show that a majority of farms have improved their water quality, demonstrating that collective action has been a key element in the outcome. At the same time, poor-performing farms reveals shortcomings of joint compliance. I end by discussing the implications of how individual and collective requirements can provide farmers with valuable information while also drawing on farmer social dynamics to encourage greater participation.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research program under Cooperative Agreements #DEB-1832229, #DEB-1237517, #DBI-0620409, and #DEB-9910514. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.



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